Monday, April 21, 2008

"The whole truth"

In a court room one is required to present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  This litany remains an excellent guide for anyone undertaking the job of making a genuine case against something or someone.

To make a case, whether scientific or criminal, one must present to an audience the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  In other words, one presents all relevant facts without distortion or deception: one presents the truth, and nothing but.  We might testify in court, for example, that a defendant owned a gun that matched the bullet found in the victim, and then invite the appropriate conclusions about culpability to be drawn.  Or we might report from the lab that experiments showed judicious application of our new wonder drug caused an abatement in a disease we hope to cure.

But this in itself is insufficient -- one must not leave out facts which are inconvenient to one's case.  One may have footnotes and witness statements for everything we do report, but if relevant facts remain unreported, then the footnotes and witness statements are either cherrypicking, if intentional, or unfortunate,  if inadvertent -- but the result in the end is that our report is worthless.

(By the way, to establish precisely which facts are relevant, it's helpful to fully understand the causal link between those facts of which we are aware -- just another reason that no explanation is complete without causality.)

Telling the whole truth means looking for facts that contradict one's argument, and then reporting them.  If we know that on the night the victim died, for example, that the defendant spent the entire time in full public view at a function for police prosecutors, then it would be wrong to omit this fact from our testimony.  If we know that not all our experiments have worked, and we are unable to explain the causality behind those that do or don't, then it would be wrong to say we know the whole truth, and dishonest not to seek a full explanation.

It's important to understand that if the omission of relevant facts is intentional, then being economical with the truth is the same thing as lying.  If unintentional,  then it begins to look like incompetence.  If done repeatedly it begins to look like a modus operandi, and one is entitled to simply disregard intentionality, and simply ignore anything further from that quarter.

So to conclude: Honest reportage and honest scientific discussion represents the whole truth -- that is, all relevant facts.   A report or discussion that ignores or fails to present all relevant facts is worthless.  So too is a reporter or interlocutor who cherrypicks.

What prompted me to write this post today?  Simple.  Because Ian Wishart has a new book out.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ian Wishart perhaps thinks the same as Garth George, in that Global Warming is bollocks because God hasn't approved it.

You should cozy up to them PC since you're all deniers.

4/21/2008 10:31:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

To deny something one implies there is a fact or a linked set of that one is denying.

Which means you're begging the question, Anonymous.

4/21/2008 10:45:00 am  
Blogger Luke H said...

Anonymous certainly has a point, PC.

I think it is quite clear that your posts on global warming "... leave out facts which are inconvenient to one's case" and you are "a reporter ... who cherrypicks".

Just say'in.

4/21/2008 05:28:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

You may think what you like, Luke, but unless you point out facts I've left out which are inconvenient to "my case" (which you haven't done) then I'm afraid you're saying precisely nothing.

4/21/2008 05:58:00 pm  
Blogger Damian said...

Bravo Peter. Ian is a disingenuous dickwad and I'm alarmed at the number of people who take him seriously.

4/21/2008 07:14:00 pm  
Anonymous hanso said...

I confess!

My name isn't hanso!






Carry on then...

4/21/2008 07:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not serious enough to take him to court though, Damian.

Perhaps because they realise he has a defence in fact.

Sounds like his lawyers can beat their lawyers.

Hopefully we'll see.

4/21/2008 08:00:00 pm  
Anonymous Elijah Lineberry said...

Peter, ummmmm...I have read your post several times...forgive me for asking, but, what is it about? ..(*confuzzled*)

4/22/2008 07:05:00 am  
Anonymous DenMT said...

PC: I note that whilst you take issue with Luke H laying allegations of "... leav[ing] out facts which are inconvenient to one's case" that you wisely do not challenge him when he points out that you are a "a reporter ... who cherrypicks".

Claiming that world hasn't warmed since 1998 is technically correct but very disingenuous, and the majority of the homilies that have been distilled from this particular piece of dodgy reasoning are a textbook definition of 'cherrypicking'. Anyone (and I do mean ANYONE) looking at the graph that you yourself posted up a few days ago would surely agree that it shows a spike at 1998 but continued upwards trending. Any other conclusion drawn is surely head-in-the-sand stuff... Still, one sees what one wishes to see when one squints hard enough.

DenMT

4/22/2008 01:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be a great idea if Parliament's Question time required the same standard of answer;
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

sg

4/22/2008 02:08:00 pm  
Anonymous SWS said...

In a court of law, the prosecution and the defence do not have to reveal the whole truth - indeed, each may be hoping like mad certain inconvenient facts stay hidden, and be guiding their witnesses accordingly.

The system works because of a) the adversarial nature that encourages each side to look for holes in the other's presentation of the case and b) because of the presence of the judge and jury to listen and weigh the cases.

In 'real life' intelligent readers detect bias by noting the absence of any caveats in the presentation of a case and by checking who wrote the piece. (OK, so first find your intelligent reader...)

It's not incumbent on a writer to present every nuance of an argument either, though intelligent writers will know the opposition's case and position theirs accordingly eg by damning with faint praise. (OK, so now find your intelligent writer...)

Frankly, I'm all for biased writing. It's usually lively and engaging. Demanding "the whole truth" in every piece of writing sounds suspiciously like spoon feeding for the lowest common denominator.

Let intelligence differentiate between honest reporting and oped.

4/22/2008 02:34:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

Hi DenMT

Upward trend? Depends how long the timeframe is.

Even shoud the trend line appear to go upward (in the timeframe selected) you still need to produce evidence sufficient to demonstrate causality and hence proof for your AGW position. Unless that is accomplished, PC need do nothing more than say AGW theory is BS. He has no need to cherry pick as you have no cherries for him to pick from.

LGM

4/22/2008 04:37:00 pm  
Blogger Andrew said...

I'm still waiting for Luke H to front up and provide examples where PC has cherry picked.

Just sayin'.

4/24/2008 10:54:00 pm  
Blogger Luke H said...

Andrew, I can't be bothered going through PC's posts to get specific things. As DenMT pointed out, banging on about the 1998 spike showing that the world has STOPPED WARMING and neglecting to mention that the overall trend is still - inexorably - UP is essentially a lie. And it annoys me.

I get very frustrated because PC is right about all sorts of things - that the socialists will use global warming as an excuse to grab power, that many environmentalists are anti-human - but all of his great arguments are tainted by his denial (or so it seems, it isn't entirely clear what he believes) that humans are causing any warming. Or that the warming is occurring at all. But if IS warming, its the sun. Make up your mind, PC.

I believe that this issue is scientific question, not a political one. Check on wikipedia or google or scientific papers, and you'll see that when PC posts articles or refers to posts which discuss scientific papers they are often non-peer reviewed. In other words, non-scientific.

I would like to state some specifics, because generalities are often frustrating to debate. I would like to declare that the following are provable facts:

1) carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat through the greenhouse effect (this is due to the quantum mechanics of the molecule itself).

2) increased levels of CO2 lead to a greater greenhouse effect, and thus, higher temperatures.

3) human activity is a net source of CO2, ie, we are releasing a lot, and absorbing very little.

You can read a bit more at my blog, where I attempt to show why most scientists believe that:

1. The global average surface temperature of the Earth is increasing
2. Human activity has added significant amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere
3. This human-added CO2 is causing, and will continue to cause, global warming

http://pacificempire.org.nz/?page_id=274

4/25/2008 01:10:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Luke

A proof is necessary for each of those contentions (and several others besides). Those proofs you aint got. Therefore the whole AGW mess is purile BS, mere empty assertion and religious dogma. That it will remain unless proven to be otherwise.

That this mess has come about speaks volumes about the state of education and science since the near complete nationalisation of both those sectors.

LGM

4/25/2008 09:04:00 am  
Blogger Luke H said...

LGM, you're confused. We are talking about science here, not mathematics. There are no "proofs" to be had, only theories and arguments.

Also, what PC and I are doing isn't even arguing. We are simply stating our own positions on the theories of others, putting bets on which horse will win the race.

And it doesn't even matter, does it? Whether humans have caused global warming or not, our side - for PC and I are on the same side - has already lost. The socialists and the environmentalists are busy building wind turbines and passing legislation. Its too late. We already pay too much taxes, and now we'll be paying far too much for energy and housing and transport and heating and food - all the things which humankind has fought for for thousands of years.

Goodbye freedom. It was nice knowing you.

4/26/2008 01:55:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Luke

No proofs in science? That's wrong. In the absence of proof any and all arbitrary assertions must be accepted as valid. There is simply no way to sort out the true and real from the false and unreal. In such a situation science becomes exactly as you've described, theory and argument- nothing more than competing religious sects.*

I agree that things look serious for freedom at the moment. You are correct about the socialists, collectivists and the rest of those vermin. It's not a matter of having lost though. In the end, no-one can oppose reality indefinately. The consequences of entire economies being shackled to the idiocy of the environmentalists is very serious. There will be powercuts, loss of services, imposition of rationing, decline in standards of living, impoverishment, food shortages, medical crises and worse. How long will people accept that? Perhaps as long as 70 years, perhaps not even that long. In the end though they'll indicate they've had enough one way or another.

It is not possible to oppose the nature of reality indefinately. That goes for the nature of man just as it goes for the nature of the planet.

LGM

* Luke, get hold of a copy of Harriman's "Philosophic Corruption of Science" for a detailed discussion of this. You'd likely find it interesting.

4/26/2008 07:06:00 am  
Anonymous Elijah Lineberry said...

Luke, 30 - 35 years ago there was hysteria about a coming Ice Age! Time magazine did a cover story about it in 1975.

Many of the same chaps now claiming the World is warming were claiming it was cooling back in the 1970s...including Al Gore (!) who made a speech in the US House about it!

It is difficult to view these Scientist chaps as having credibility when every couple of decades they change their mind...read the Bob Jones novel "Full Circle" where he satirises these people.

4/26/2008 08:50:00 am  

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